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Galleries find creative ways to navigate pandemic

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When the 2020 cruise ship season was cancelled due to the coronavirus, Bermuda Arts Centre at Dockyard was forced to create an alternative source of income.

Some ten months later, the BACD has got by with a little help from its friends.

Artist and gallery curator Heidi Cowen and six other artists – Chris Marson, Chris Grimes, Barb Freda, Michele Smith, Tricia Roberts, and Marlene Jantzen – each agreed to create a small work once a week.

The 6in-by-6in paintings sell for $66, and are marketed via a daily e-mail blast.

Ms Cowen said: “We have sold 95 per cent of our paintings. Sixty-six dollars a day doesn’t sound like much, but at the end of the day, it’s immense.”

In a normal year, she said the BACD derives 70 per cent of its sales income from tourists, and 30 per cent from local customers.

Ms Cowen added that last year it was 95 per cent locals and 5 per cent tourists. She said: "Art is an emotional purchase, a happy purchase, so I am really surprised that art purchases from locals have gone up considerably.

“People have told me ‘we can’t go away, so we are supporting locally’. If not for locals, our doors would be closed.

“Everyone who comes in here, I thank them profusely, because they have kept us going.”

Nzingha Ming, gallery director at the Bermuda Society of Arts, said the impact of the coronavirus was “very sudden and very huge”.

She added: “The gallery rents space to artists, so a lot of shows planned during the lockdown, and for sometime after, were affected.”

Foot traffic to the gallery dropped, and a planned musical fundraiser was shelved. Event rentals dried up.

That has put the gallery “in a difficult position”, Ms Ming said, which makes fundraising efforts and the current membership push all the more important.

Ms Ming said the gallery has live openings, but also posts images of the artists’ work online.

She said: “We recognised that people wanted to see the shows, but weren’t comfortable coming out. They still want to buy work and see what people are doing.”

Regulations that restricted public gatherings forced the gallery to adjust.

Ms Ming said: “For our last show, we booked time online in half-hour blocks for 10 people.”

The response to current exhibitions – by Martin and Stratton Hatfield, Rory Jackson, and the members’ winter show - has been encouraging, she said, adding: “We have not sold out, but sales have been strong.”

Artist and gallery owner Lisa-Anne Rego said a move last year to create a presence on Instagram for her business in Dockyard’s Clocktower Mall “happened by sheer necessity”.

Ms Rego said: “Instagram made a big difference bringing awareness to my work. I had little time to invest in Instagram before – I was too busy helping cruise ship customers. I think that will bring greater stability to my winter; cruise ship passengers make up a huge percentage of my sales.”

She added that Instagram’s “virtual art rooms” give customers a head start before they visit the gallery.

Ms Rego said: “Looking back at 2020, my sales have largely come from locals choosing my artwork, which has been offered to them at excellent prices on my hand-finished reproductions. This is my way of thanking locals for choosing me in 2020.

“Running a gallery as an artist is quite a juggling act. Last year gave me more studio time to create original art commissions for my local audience. I am delighted to have reached the local audience so successfully.”

She added: “The good offers will continue in 2021 as we wait for the travel industry to open up.”

Tom Butterfield, the founder and creative director of Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art, said the impact of Covid-19 has been “enormous but not catastrophic”.

He added: “We’re down but we’re okay.”

Mr Butterfield said: “Museums need various income streams to support what they do. Our little shop is important, and the lack of visitors and the stay-at-home all had an impact. The admission fee is only $10, but that helps pay the electricity bill.”

He added: “The big loss is not being able to do receptions and openings. Museums are about education and entertainment, but they are also about having conversations with people and having some fun. That has all been gone this year.”

Fundraising efforts were hampered, said Mr Butterfield, who is to hand off to his successor, Risa Hunter, when he steps down next month.

He added: “Campaigning and fundraising are what I consider contact sports. You have got to be in the room with people to ask for support. We have done that remotely, plus in July, August and September I was introducing Risa to small numbers of our supporters and to new people as well.

“It has been very, very difficult. You go to work, you are all wearing masks when you arrive and to take people on tours through the archives. It’s very difficult to speak for half an hour in a lecture or talk with a mask on.”

Peter Lapsley, executive director at Bermuda National Gallery, said the pandemic created challenges in the areas of fundraising, day-to-day operations as staff began to work remotely, and “trying to find ways to continue to provide the kind of relevant and engaging programming and exhibition opportunities in a digital realm”.

Initiatives included online exhibitions, digital gallery walk-throughs, website offerings, the use of YouTube and other digital portals, and shifting the gallery’s educational programming online.

He added: “Engaging with people is primarily what we do, and I think we found ways to engage with people in different ways.”

Citing the importance of the arts from a long-term standpoint, he said it was vital that once the pandemic passes the gallery “continues to provide arts and cultural programming for the community”.

Mr Lapsley said current exhibitions have been extended, and new exhibitions will begin in March.

He added: “We are working on those at the moment, and still believe that, short of everything being shut down, they will go forward.”

Gallery One Seventeen, which opened on Front Street in Hamilton in 2016, has closed its physical location – but has re-launched online. Efforts to reach gallery director Danjou Anderson were unsuccessful.

Lisa-Anne Rego, artist and gallery owner (Photograph supplied)
Christopher Marson is among seven artists who contributed a painting a week to the Bermuda Arts Centre at Dockyard (Photograph supplied)
Nzingha Ming, gallery director at the Bermuda Society of Arts (File photograph)
Tom Butterfield, founder and creative director of Masterworks and Morgan Simons, events and members coordinator at the museum (File photograph by Akil Simmons)
Peter Lapsley, executive director of the Bermuda National Gallery (File photograph supplied)
Danjou Anderson, left, at the former retail outlet Gallery One Seventeen, and his nephew Nicholas Mello (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published January 22, 2021 at 9:13 am (Updated January 22, 2021 at 9:13 am)

Galleries find creative ways to navigate pandemic

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